Success Story Interview - Jen Estes

An Interview with Jen Estes (leftorwrite on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jen Estes:
FIFTEEN is a YA sci-fi/fantasy about a 15-year-old girl who astral-projects to her hellish future while sleeping. I love the idea of the ordinary becoming the extraordinary, probably because I’m in that first category. As for the sleep aspect, I’m a very vivid dreamer and as a child, I was obsessed with analyzing my dreams. (Confession: I still am. My morning ritual is a cup of tea and an online dream dictionary.)
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jen Estes:
I spent most of my life as a reader and jumped to the other side three years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jen Estes:
I wrote FIFTEEN in a whirlwind of three weeks, and then set it aside for several months so I could edit it with fresh eyes. (Which it definitely needed before submitting to agents.)
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jen Estes:
Well, I’ve done the query process before and that made it a lot easier. Knowing that it only takes one “yes” really took the sting out of every “no”. I also received a lot more interest in this manuscript than my previous one right off the bat – and having partials/fulls out made it easy to stay motivated. And although I’m terribly impatient, I was able to soothe myself by knowing that when it happens, it happens very quickly. (Which it did. Rebecca offered rep three days after requesting the full.)
QT: Is this your first book?
Jen Estes:
No, but it is my first YA. I’ve previously published four books in a sportswriter sleuth mystery series.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jen Estes:
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jen Estes:
Yes. I’m a terrible multitasker, especially when it comes to writing. (I immerse myself in my story and it’s hard to come back to reality.) I turn off my phone, avoid social media and wait for my husband to go to work. Now if only my cats cooperated.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jen Estes:
A little bit of both. I’m usually a write-first/ask-questions-later kind of gal, but this book has a lot of time-traveling and alternate universes. If I didn’t keep some sort of outline, my brain would explode all over my keyboard. Messy.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jen Estes:
I sent out over 100 queries in just a couple of months. I queried very wide and targeted fast-responders first, so that if they rejected, I could query someone else within their agency. I ended up with 11 requests and 4 offers.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jen Estes:
After verifying they repped YA and were open to queries, I started with the fast-responders. I only queried no-responders if they were a perfect match for my manuscript, as I knew they’d probably be my only shot with that agency. I avoided agents who only accepted snail mail queries.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jen Estes:
Only if I had a specific reason such as a referral, we met at a conference, or I read a tweet that requested exactly what I was querying.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jen Estes:
It only takes one yes and the harder it is to get there, the better of a story it makes.

Query Letter:

"Legend has it if you die in your sleep, you die in real life. I know that's not true because I die every night."

When 15-year-old Ashling Campbell closes her eyes each night, she doesn’t dream about public nudity or prom dates. Instead, she's catapulted to the front row of her future self's execution - fifteen years from now - where monsters have taken control of her hometown and she, or rather, her 30-year-old counterpart, is their public enemy number one.

For three months and counting, it's been the same dream... until an encounter with a supposedly-harmless dreamcatcher. Ash falls asleep to discover she's longer a mere spectator in these dreams - now she's actually astral-projecting into the body of her future self. Each night, she goes on the run with a ragtag group of rebels - who have no idea she's really a high school sophomore and not their noble warrior. With the help of both her best friend and a mysterious somnologist, Ash learns to manipulate her sleep through lucid dreaming. She has to make it through each night so that she can wake up and find a way to change the future. For every action she does in the present day, she falls asleep to discover it had an equal impact fifteen years later. It's up to her to manage her two worlds and make sure she's still got a place in both.

Although this is my first YA novel, I'm a formerly-agented author with four published novels and my work has appeared in a variety of publications, from Mystery Scene to Penthouse Magazine. I’m also a member of the National Writers Union and Sisters in Crime.

FIFTEEN is a YA sci-fi and stands alone at 75,000 with series potential. Per your website's instructions, I've included my first two chapters below and a full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time.